A victory for Citizen Action – but the fight never stops!
Updated November 28, 2011
I write to you all today bearing good news for Environmental protection in Barbados.
It was announced yesterday in the Barbados Today online magazine that the proposed development for Long Beach and the Chancery Lane Wetlands was “scrapped”. According to Government officials from the Town & Country Planning Department, the application for the development was pulled. This is a GREAT day in Barbados history as we constantly struggle to preserve the natural beauty of our island.
BFP reader “A” (who never said if we should use their name)
Original story first published March 20, 2010…
Chancery Lane – Long Beach movement latest sign of citizens empowering themselves
There was a time in this country, and it wasn’t so long ago, that the business and political elites could do pretty much as they wanted without encountering too much resistance from ordinary folks. As long as the land developers could pay big money in “consulting fees” and “campaign donations”, the political elites would eventually provide the land-use approvals – knowing that cowed Bajan citizens would keep their mouths shut as their island was paved over one project at a time.
Oh sure, the developers knew they’d have to order all the kitchens and bathrooms at a silly price from a certain supplier in Miami and that a few “consulting companies” in New York and the Caymans would have to be paid to, well, “consult”. They knew that a certain politician’s nephew would have to be hired during the construction phase – but all this “juice” to the controlling political elites was factored in like any other cost of doing business.
There was a certainty about the process that guaranteed a smooth path after the Prime Minister of the day gave his assurances. “Consultants” had to be paid to arrange meetings with the PM and other officials, but that’s life in Barbados and the Caribbean in general.
Before the internet, land developers and government officials could hide their plans and schemes. Often the first the locals knew about anything was when they woke up to the sound of bulldozers.
Complaints from the locals and troublemakers were handled by a combination of ignoring the voices of concern or hiring them. With over 50% of the workers in Barbados employed by the government in one way or another it is not difficult to envision why individual Bajans are reluctant to complain about government-approved land development. Citizens couldn’t (and still can’t) rely upon the news media at all, and the courts… well, the people who ran the courts were the same folks who ran the government so there wasn’t much hope for justice. Citizens got that message pretty quickly when David Simmons went from Attorney General to Chief Justice as fast as you could say “de fix is in.”
Times were good for the developers and for the politicians.
Turning public lands into private profits became virtually a science in Barbados over the last 20 years.
It was nothing to have a farmer refused development permission for decades and then a week after he sold out for nothing to a connected lawyer the permissions came through. Scrub land became worth millions with the click of a pen. That’s millions for the developers and the politicians, but not the farmer who usually uttered nothing more than “What can you do?” because in Barbados there are no rules against that sort of corruption.
Even in 2006 when Public Works Minister Gline Clarke was caught building a house on land that his government expropriated for “public housing” the Barbados news media ignored the story and still does to this day. (See Barbados Government Minister Gline Clarke – House and Mercedes On Expropriated Land)
Caribbean Splash, the internet and an awaking sense of citizen power
The easy times for the politicians and the developers came to an abrupt end during the Caribbean Splash debacle in 2006. The difference was the internet.
American developer Matthew Kerins received Prime Minister Owen Arthur’s go ahead to build a waterpark in the Graeme Hall watershed. According to Mr. Kerins himself, he paid some US$2 million dollars in “consulting” and other fees and met with Prime Minister Arthur, who assured Mr. Kerins that the Caribbean Splash waterpark was welcome in Barbados. (See Caribbean Splash Waterpark Developer Says Barbados Government “Cannot Back Out Of The Deal…”)
Neither Matthew Kerins nor Mr. Arthur counted on the public’s outrage and the ability of ordinary citizens to organise and share information using blogs, FaceBook, websites, emails and petitions.
When the BLP government had to back down, a betrayed Kerins announced that he’d paid his “consulting” fees to the tune of a couple of million dollars and the government couldn’t back out of the deal. HA! Wrong thing to say ’bout hey. Everything worked fine until Kerins said one word about “consulting fees” and then it was game over for obvious reasons.
Culture-shocked Kerins didn’t get the fact that everything has to be kept secret for the process to work. HA! Tough luck, sucker.
After running an insulting newspaper advert calling the citizens who opposed him “snakes in the cane field”, Matthew Kerins went home to New Jersey like the plucked chicken he was: older and wiser but still missing two million U.S. tail feathers.
That, my friends, was accomplished by ordinary folks who’d had enough and used the internet to rapidly organise with an effectiveness that wasn’t possible before.
Chancery Lane Hotel Proposal: Citizens took control, distributed hidden information on the Internet
Government and the developers know there is a lot to be said for restricting the amount of information available to citizens. That’s why developers are not required to place proposals and environmental reports on the internet. That’s why only a handful of paper copies are made available during the most inconvenient times and usually with highly restrictive rules. Can’t photocopy! Can’t make notes! Can’t read the 400 page report for more than 15 minutes even if nobody else is waiting to look at it!
And that is why Beachside Properties Inc. didn’t place their Chancery Lane – Long Beach reports on the internet for all to see.
God forbid that citizens actually get to read, understand and research the reports concerning what the Abed family want to do at Chancery Lane and Long Beach!
But last Thursday at the required public meeting with the Beachside Properties Inc, citizens held in their hands copies of the environmental reports and Ministry responses that were originally denied them – all thanks to the folks at the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary who somehow managed to obtain copies of the reports and put them on the internet at their Chancery Lane – Long Beach resource page.
What a game changer that was! No thanks to the Thompson DLP government and no thanks to the Abed family.
It’s called “Participatory Democracy” by informed citizens. The politicians and their developer friends hate it!
Folks, not all development is bad for Barbados or has negative consequences for ordinary Bajans.
But not all development is good. Even the best plans and intentions can have adverse social and environmental impacts – and yes, development can even result in adverse economic consequences for the country.
Visitors come here because Barbados offers a unique combination of experiences, environment and culture that is found nowhere else in the world – but lately more and more visitors have been commenting that the very qualities that attracted them to Barbados in the first place are losing ground to unfettered and ill-planned development.
Many of our famous beaches are gone. Vistas that once were are now spoilt by concrete condos that block the sun and the sea from view. Smelly yellow-green effluent from unknown sources trickles onto sands at Bathsheba and other formerly-pristine areas.
The only public transportation plan that any of our governments have come up with is more autos on more roads for more hours each day.
Developers want to add ever more hotel rooms while our national occupancy rate barely cracks 50 percent. Shouldn’t we work on filling those empty rooms first before pouring more concrete into what remains of the unspoiled coastline?
We had better pay attention when diehard fans of Barbados start talking about St. Lucia and how that island and the people remind them of Barbados 30 years ago.
“Trust Us” doesn’t work for government or developers any longer
I don’t trust politicians who say that five paper copies of environmental reports are all that is required for a population of three hundred thousand. I don’t trust developers who think that sewage ponds are “natural wildlife habitat” and that they can safely manage the discharge of millions of kilos of liquid turds, urine and cleaning chemicals into the environment.
And I sure don’t trust any politician or government official who says that developers and hotel owners are responsible enough to operate and monitor their own sewerage treatment plants.
“Environmental Estate” nothing but a propaganda term
Memo to Developers and Politicians: Withholding information from the public is no longer tolerated or possible. Calling a condo an “environmental estate” is laughable. Thinking that using the word “sustainable” will fool the majority of the people is, well, unsustainable.
The development game has changed in Barbados – and it’s about time.
Here is the Nation News report on Thursday’s public meeting about the Chancery Lane / Long Beach project. Generally not a bad piece of reporting by the Nation. You should read the article on their website, but we’ll publish the whole thing here because The Nation has been known in the past to kill stories and change the historical record for political reasons…
“The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.”
“And if all others accepted the lie which the party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became the truth.”
… from George Orwell’s famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (pages 78 & 37)
THREE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES (UWI) professors, the Barbados National Trust and more than 500 worried people are trying to torpedo a $232 million hotel and condominium project proposed for the Long Beach/ Chancery Lane area of Christ Church.
Professors Robin Mahon, Julia Horrocks and Sean Carrington made their objection clear in a four-page report circulated Thursday night during a public meeting at St Christopher’s Primary School, Christ Church.
Watson and the professors argue that the “Long Beach Environmental Estate” proposed by businessman Anthony Abed and his family will cause untold damage to the 92-acre site that includes an important coastal wetland and what is believed to be an area rich in Amerindian history.
If the project goes ahead, it will mean a significant downgrading for “the last unspoilt beach land on the south coast” and “the last remaining major coastal pre-history site in Barbados”, according to the professors.
The project also threatens “the last remaining sand dune community of the south coast” and “the sole site in Barbados for the button mangrove”, they said.
Watson said: “There are many specifics that are of deep concern to the National Trust, specifics of a scientific nature which we will communicate separately to the Chief Town Planner.”
The trust did not want to appear to be obstructionist or anti-development, he said, but it was concerned about the last open space left to Barbadians, becoming the site of tourist development.
According to Watson, the time had come for Barbadians to ask themselves how far they were prepared to take development and “do we want to concretise this island from North Point to South Point?”
Like the professors, he spoke of the threatened loss of a wetland area, home to many species of birds, and of the possible closure of a chance for archaeologists to explore some parts of it.
Environmental planning consultant Lani Edghill also reported that she had collected more than 500 signatures for a petition against the development.
Thursday night’s meeting was called to release details of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) study done for the project being spearheaded by Beachside Properties Inc., a company owned by the Abeds.
Beachside Properties Inc. has applied for Town Planning permission to change the use of 92 acres, and hosting the public meeting is one of the conditions the Town Planning Department sets for considering such applications.
Justin Jennings-Wray of environmental consultants Stantec, said the developers had sought to mitigate the impact of whatever challenges were identified.
However, several of the more than 200 people attending the three-hour meeting raised concern about the bad smell likely to come from the proposed “advanced wastewater treatment plant”, noise during the construction phase, heavy vehicular traffic, limited access to the beach for recreation and about the area’s exposure to hurricanes.
Businessman Bob Verdun said that considering the threat posed by hurricanes, “it is sheer madness to build a hotel there”.
Hotelier Adrian Loveridge said the project did not make sense, given the fact that in the last 15 years 32 hotels had gone out of business and thousands of hotel rooms remained empty every night.
Joan Harvey-Ellis complained that Barbados did not have a good history of wastewater management.
Administrative director of the Future Centre Trust, Nicole Garofano, saw the development cutting down on the island’s open spaces.
Given the large number of impacts the study was forced to look at, she asked the developers: “Why don’t you consider somewhere else?”
One concern voiced was that the development, if launched, would send Chancery Lane land tax bills right through the roof in the next few years.
Developers say that investment flows for the project would total $232.5 million, with the cost of constructing the 4/5-star hotel put at $60 million.
The project is expected to create 450 construction jobs and 506 long-term jobs.
Foreign direct investment from lot and condominium sales to non- residents is estimated at $140 million. (TY)